Ben McDonagh talks two-way trust, countering burnout and effective communication

The impacts of the past year and a quarter have inevitably become interwoven into the everyday lives of hundreds of million individuals worldwide, and look likely to be felt for quite some time.

However, amid the industry talk of land-based closures, significant online uptick and retail only businesses being left behind, what have employers learned during this unprecedented time? What can be done to counter potential overworking and burnout? And how has more effective communication been adopted?

Ben McDonagh, CEO of Green Jade Games.

Ben McDonagh, CEO of Green Jade Games, aims to tackle this and much more, as the next stage of the group’s growth, and investing in people, are also touched upon in some detail.

CasinoBeats: Over the last 15 months or so employees have had to be trusted more than ever before, what major lessons do you believe have been learned by employers during this time?

Ben McDonagh: It’s easy to say that if we don’t have trust in an employee that we shouldn’t hire them in the first place, whether that is to work elbow to elbow or remotely. However, the trust value is not intrinsically one way.

The employee must have trust that they will be included and considered and not be ‘out of sight, out of mind’. This has been especially important over the last 12 months; employees have needed to know that their opinion and opportunity to speak has been as well considered when talking via Zoom as it would have been were they in the same room as their colleagues. 

Addressing the lessons learned more prosaically, I can say that we’re still learning. Green Jade Games has always functioned with an element of remote working – both in terms of outsourced experts and in-house staff – so we are comfortable with a shared documents space, regular digital meetings, exceptional note taking and meeting management. Due to our set-up, these are natural attributes and tools of our business. 

Where I wish to improve is achieving my level of ‘inclusion’ for all colleagues. This is an area we continue to invest in, as remote working is never going away for us, so the opportunity to be a better employer is something I embrace and look forward to improving upon. 

CB: What practices have you employed throughout GJG during this period of enforced remote working? Particularly to counter potential overworking and burnout?

BM: This is a great question, and one that I focus on individually rather than as a singular company approach. There is always more than enough work to be done to fill a working day and as a start-up CEO, I need us to consistently be delivering. 

The trouble with that is it can and does lead to burnout, but that’s the reality of building a brilliant product. The work can be hard and the hours can be long, however, the work only gets done because we have a problem worth solving. I believe that if we were a traditional games development company, the work would be done at a clocking in and clocking out approach because the engagement is missing. 

“The employee must have trust that they will be included and considered and not be out of sight, out of mind”

Therefore, we don’t always get the work rest balance right, but our value of care doesn’t waver. I know that some colleagues want to spend time in the afternoon helping their children with homework, and that is never a problem as that it the most valuable use of that colleague’s time right then. 

The Green Jade Games work still gets done but at a time that is convenient to the colleague. Allowing that flexibility combined with building a product vertical that will transform our industry has thus far proven to ensure our team is happy and motivated to deliver to the best of their ability, and when one needs a break, they take that break without any fear of reprisal.

CB: Effective communication has, arguably, never played a more crucial role in the workplace, what do you believe are the most effective strategies here? Especially with teams often being stretched over large distances?

BM: Firstly, no matter how many languages a colleague speaks, the business language is always English or as my colleague Jesper says, “We have two languages, English, and broken English!” 

‘Cameras on’ is also really important for me. That visual connection means an awful lot when both delivering and receiving a message. I don’t care if someone thinks they ‘look like shit’. We’re not there to judge someone’s appearance or have an opinion on the set up of their living room (though I am always nosey about colleagues’ art pieces!), we are there to build together and effective communication is essential for success. 

Stable internet is crucial here, too, as it’s not unusual for meetings to be elongated by several minutes each day as we recap for someone who is lagging or drops off mid call. This is harder to solve, but whatever we can do to help, we do.

“We don’t always get the work rest balance right, but our value of care doesn’t waver

CB: What does the next stage of growth look like for GJG?

BM: Now this one is a little clearer as it’s practically all that I and the leadership team here chat about every day! We’re undertaking a massive recruitment drive right now and are investing heavily in our people. This opportunity is afforded to us through the excellent distribution we’ve achieved and the quality of the games we have produced and launched. 

The next stage of growth is all centred around our arcade games and the new approach we have taken in bringing these to market. We pride ourselves on being the leaders in arcade gambling games but that says as much about our failures as it does our successes. 

I don’t think many have gotten it as wrong as we have, however, no one else has the data and information needed to design the next games in absolutely the right way. The last six months have been spent on one particular platform change related to arcade games, and this change allows us to propel entertainment 100x over what we have managed before. 

What we are cooking now is completely unprecedented in our space and whilst we’re likely another nine months away from a network wide product launch party, the work intensity is higher than ever and the excitement internally is already bananas. By the time we’re done, I don’t think we’ll see gambling entertainment in the same light ever again. 

CB: Related to the last question, how much of a part will investing in people play in this growth?

BM: This is everything. Green Jade Games is an important part of many communities. Our colleagues are parents, educators, athletes, counsellors, confidents and friends. By providing them with fulfilling work that allows them to develop intellectually and teases their creativity, we give ourselves the greatest opportunity to build brilliant products for the world. 

If you’re reading this, it’s likely that you work in the gambling industry and as such, have a distorted view compared to some other populaces who maybe don’t view gambling in such a positive light. 

That being said, we exist to entertain through the opportunity to win more than you lose – this trade, this investment of a player’s time and money, is transacted with the understanding that in return we will deliver an experience that carries the player on a rollercoaster of highs and, of course, lows. 

You cannot enjoy the highs without the lows but we, as an industry, don’t always get this right. If we diversify our work force and invest in excellent individuals, we’ll get it right more often than we get it wrong. This is what excites me every day – seeing those around me flourish.

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